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Humor as a Therapeutic Tool

Coping with stress through Humor

During these times of uncertainty and fear many people have incorporated humor into their lives as a way of coping with stress. Humor has become a life preserver for many of us who are making every effort to remain afloat until the Corona storm passes. There is nothing funny about the Coronavirus or the restrictions and quarantine that keep us protected. One way for maintaining balance is by looking at things from several perspectives.

Humor can help us connect with one another

The Coronavirus has presented all of mankind with the threat of suffering, death and financial loss. It has also presented us with the opportunity to show our humanity. There are so many instances of mesirut nefesh (self- sacrifice), with people offering support and help to one another. The Coronavirus has made the Global community one of solidarity. While we re-arrange our lives and learn to adapt to a new reality, humor can help us connect with one another.  Humor can re-direct our energies to something positive. During tough times humor is often a first line of defense against stress. As noted neuropsychiatrist and author Dr. Dan J. Siegel, M.D. suggests, in order to calm down strong emotion we must “name it to tame it.” By labelling an emotion, e.g. fear (I am scared), we can separate ourselves from our experience just enough to be able to choose how to respond to it. This moment decreases the activity in the brain’s emotional center and enables us to slow down. We can then consider the possibilities and make a choice, rather than allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by an emotional tidal wave.

Humor shifts our focus away from our fears

While we are hunkering down and looking for ways to cope, sharing a good laugh with family or friends can go a long way. It will not change reality but it can be both relaxing and energizing. It can also relieve tension. A phone call, voice message, video clip or an email conveying a funny message is a momentary distraction.   It is a  necessary distraction, especially when things are so bleak. Digital communication can be a life-saver, especially for individuals who live alone or who feel alone.  A story, a smile and shared laughter can lead to the release of endorphins that in turn leave us with a good feeling.

In the current crisis humor is an indispensable therapeutic tool for survival. It connects us with others and provides an opportunity to shift our focus away from our fears. Excellent ways to bring humor into family life include sharing jokes and riddles, recalling funny family stories and looking at family pictures together. Writing scripts for family plays and puppet shows and acting them out together can bring on belly laughter.  Such activities contribute to  a feeling of togetherness which fortifies everyone and builds resilience.

As we face this crisis together and pray to Hashem for rachamim, may we as individuals, couples, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren find the strength to see the unique and sometimes surprising opportunities to connect with one another.

Dvora Samuel, MSW

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